HOKA Cielo X1 Review: a new Sheriff in town?

HOKA launches the Cielo X1 to compete against the Alphafly 3 and the Prime X 2. Is it a successful attempt?

HOKA Cielo X1: the battle of beefed up supershoes

Alex: HOKA released a phenomenal racing shoe last year with the HOKA Rocket X2. I raced the 20km of Brussels in them and loved the experience. I believe they were my favorite racing shoe of 2023, with a 10/10 fit. Many people compared them to a Nike Vaporfly and although the ride differed significantly, I can totally see why it wasn’t compared to an Alphafly. Fast forward to 2024, HOKA releases a competitor to the Nike Alphafly 3, while still keeping the Rocket X 2 in their lineup. How does it perform and is it even comparable to the likes of an Alphafly 3 or adidas Prime X 2? Let’s find out. 


Weight in Alex’s size US11 / EU 45 1/3: 287g/10.2 oz

Official Stack: 39mm/32mm (7mm drop)

Upper – Why fix what ain’t broken

Alex: I rarely give a 10/10. Not just to shoes but in life in general. 10/10 means perfection and nothing is really perfect. The upper of the HOKA Rocket X 2 deserved that 10/10 in my opinion. It was just perfect for me. Other HOKA shoes in 2023 also had a great fit. The Cielo Road, the Cielo FlyX, the Tecton X 2…well many of them. So naturally I was expecting something at least as good for the HOKA Cielo X1. 


Instead the HOKA Cielo X1 is rather disappointing. The upper is a made of a rathe thick textured material that is not very pliable. With a more rigid add-on playing the role of a toe bumper, the forefoot feels almost like a cup or a rigid bubble. This creates a lot of forefoot volume, that people with wider and higher feel will certainly appreciate. But I personally don’t need this on a racing shoe. The tongue is an asymmetrical stretchy knit tongue. Like most of these stretchy knit tongues, the lacing pressure on top of the feet is unpleasant for me. Further, the tongue doesn’t sit as nicely as it should. Last but not least the heel cup is quite large and this results in some heel movement and a bit of irritation when walking or running slow (edit: fixed with an insole swap).


Finally my biggest gripe with this upper is the laces. They’re plain bad. Maybe even the worst ever laces I’ve tested? Plasticky, rigid, not convenient and they unlace themselves every 5 minutes when running. I’ll change them for sure and HOKA better do the same in upcoming production batches of this shoe. 

HOKA Cielo X1 laces
Cielo X1-05

Tongue Tied

Ivan: I partially agree with Alex’s complaints about the upper of the HOKA Cielo X1, but personally, I don’t find it to be as severe. I do acknowledge that the thick textured upper material could be slimmed down for a snugger fit, which would also help in reducing weight. However, when I tighten the laces firmly, I experience excellent heel and midfoot lockdown without any issues of lace bite. While it would be preferable if the toe box were slightly shallower for a tighter “race fit”, it hasn’t been a significant bother during my runs. In fact, since these shoes are designed for long-distance running, the roomier toe box allows for some foot swelling.


My primary concern lies with the stretchy tongue, which I’ve found challenging to lay flat on top of my foot without it bulging up, but unlike the majority, I find the laces to be excellent. They lay flat on the knit tongue and offer no stretch, ensuring a secure lockdown—a feature I haven’t experienced with similar stretchy tongues before. In my experience, they are lightweight, stay in place, and with a secure double knot, they remain firmly tied throughout my runs.

HOKA Cielo X 1 midsole: friendly, forgiving and more

Alex: Alright, with that spicy section about the upper we need to have something compelling in the midsole area or else the review will not be good. Thankfully, HOKA did a good job with the midsole. A dual density PEBA compound (for reference, the top softer layer is has a 37C durometer and the bottom harder layer has a 45C durometer) and a winged carbon fiber plate work together to provide with a smooth ride.


The secret sauce is definitely the geometry and the cutouts. The bevelled heel secures soft landings and the long and pronounced rocker in the forefoot offer a deep sensation of forward motion at every step. The heel is actually designed in a way that doesn’t allow for too much pronation and help align the gait cycle in a targeted way. Same with the footstrike, that is controlled and happens around the midfoot area. Just like the Mizuno Wave Rebellion Pro, albeit the HOKA Cielo X1 doesn’t require a 2:30 marathon shape. 


I would define this ride experience as friendly and forgiving. It doesn’t mean that it can’t be fast and efficient. I actually believe that it is really efficient but it is not what comes to mind first. That is probably because of the weight that penalizes the ride experience a tad. The shoe rides heavy and that’s where it looses credit against the Nike Alphafly 3, a shoe 17% lighter in my size US11. 

HOKA Cielo X1 outsole
HOKA Cielo X1 midsole

Not for everyone

Ivan: The pronounced rocker geometry distinctly shapes the riding experience of this shoe. Depending on one’s biomechanics, I believe the ride could vary significantly, offering exceptional efficiency for some while being less favorable for others. Nonetheless, one undeniable aspect is the shoe’s aggressive toe-off facilitated by the prominent rocker, even at slower paces.


However, it’s essential to note that this is a substantial shoe, not particularly lightweight compared to other supershoes, and this weightiness has been noticeable during my runs, especially at race paces – unfortunate given its intended purpose. Personally, I’ve found myself needing to heavily engage my upper legs and hips, areas where I’m not particularly strong.


Nevertheless, the shoe’s geometry enables a high level of lower leg stiffness, which alleviates stress from my feet, ankles, and lower legs. While this feature could greatly benefit more powerful runners with a lower cadence, it can feel somewhat cumbersome for me due to my high cadence and snappy stride, particularly during longer runs.

HOKA Cielo X1 Outsole – Cutouts can’t compensate it all 

Alex: The rubber coverage on the HOKA Cielo X1 is excellent. It so excellent that it actually creates most of the weight excess on this shoe. Looking at the outsole, one can notice the three massive midsole cutouts. The midfoot one reminds me of what adidas did on the Adios Pro line, except it was on the medial side for the German brand and it’s on the lateral side here. The cutouts are interesting as they carve out some weight but that is not enough. A lighter upper (like on the HOKA Rocket X2) and less rubber coverage would help to bring the weight down, which is really needed on this shoe. 


Ivan: With the HOKA Cielo X1, there’s an abundance of rubber coverage, though there’s a tad too much exposed foam at the very back for heavy heel strikers. What’s particularly unusual is the deep medial cutout, which might suggest potential instability. Surprisingly, however, this shoe proves to be one of the most stable supershoes I’ve tested, despite the unconventional design.


Yet, I find myself intrigued by the placement of the cutouts without a clear explanation for their purpose apart from shedding some weight. Speaking of performance, while the grip is adequate in most conditions, I do wish it offered better traction in damp settings. Although I haven’t experienced significant slipping, there are moments where additional grip would enhance the toe-off, providing a more secure and confident stride.

HOKA Cielo X1 outsole
HOKA Cielo X1 full review

Conclusion – Does the HOKA Cielo X1 have enough to compete?

Alex: I’m really torn as I’m about to draft this conclusion. On the one hand the HOKA Cielo X1 brings a lot to the table. The geometry and ride experience will please a ton of runners. And a variety of them too. Most race day paces will work with this shoe, wider and higher feet will enjoy the fit, all types of footstrikes will appreciate the heel bevel and prolonged rocker.

At €275/$275, the price is high but in line with the competition. So what’s wrong then? For me the upper and fit experience kill this shoe’s chances to compete against the big boys of the top league. The Nike Alphafly 3 fits like a glove and weighs 50g less in my size. The Prime X 2 doesn’t have an ideal fit but it’s still better than the Cielo X1’s.  I can predict that this shoe will sell well and I can already see myself using it a lot for long runs with some marathon pace pickups. But I can also predict that should HOKA tweak a couple of things, then the best shoes in the market can start to worry. 


Ivan: I am as torn as Alex with this conclusion, but for most part for other reasons. Personally, I’m quite satisfied with the overall fit of the shoe. However, my primary concern lies with the weight added by the thick materials in the upper. While the fit offers a fair amount of spaciousness, I believe it balances well with the midsole, preventing the shoe from feeling excessively bottom-heavy. Nevertheless, I would have preferred both the upper and midsole slimmed down, aligning better with my biomechanics and preferences.


That said, I can see how the deep cushioning, rocker geometry, and broad platform would cater to more powerful runners, providing an enjoyable and protective experience on race day.



48 years old

180cm (5’9″) – 63kg (138lbs)

Midfoot striker – Cadence runner

Mild pronator


Alex Filitti Meta Circle


29 years old

183cm (6′) – 68kg (148lbs)

Mid/Forefoot striker – Stride runner

Moderate pronator


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